The Sale of the Walt Husak Collection|
By Dennis Fuoss
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Wow! I am still a little stunned by the magnitude of this event in Long Beach last Friday night.
After the long build-up, and the beautiful 414 page catalogue, and the long wait to view each and every coin, and much personal speculation about how the bidding might go, I am happy to report that it was all worth it, and then some!
Walt's sale met all of my expectations, and produced a lot of awesome surprises. I can say it was my privilege to be present.
The rare coin field produces very few stars, but after this sale, we must count Walter Husak among the luminaries in our hobby.
Sheldon, Naftzger, Paschal, Loring, Brown, Robinson, Rasmussen, and now... Husak!
I can't say enough good things about this man, or his collection. A true gentleman and family man who used his passion for Large Cents (and a few million dollars) to create a real thing of beauty - a personal vision translated into cuprous reality!
For breadth, how about 292 of the 295 originally enumerated Sheldon varieties (301 coins altogether, with edge variations?) Does it matter that he did not obtain the S-15, or the S-79, or S-80? Not really. The truth is that he could have gotten them, but probably not in high enough condition to fit with the rest of the set (or, perhaps not at a price that seemed prudent to pay.) For quality, how about 55 condition-census pieces dated 1794, out of 57 1794 coins in the sale? How about 21 finest-known coins for 1794 alone?! Now THAT is passion!
There were enough highlights from this auction to fill a small book. I just want to mention some of the coins that were significant to me. Two coins were notable for the prices they realized. These were Lot 2014 (1793 S-13 Liberty Cap, CC-2) and Lot 2050 (1794 S-48 Starred Reverse, CC-1). Each of these coins was hammered down for $550,000! The Sheldon-13 traces its ownership back to Joseph J. Mickley (whose collection was sold in 1867) and is 2nd finest known, behind the Eliasberg coin. The Sheldon-48 is the finest known of a very scarce (pop. est. ~60) and famous variety. The coin showed up in a Spink & Son (London) price list in 1972, and was prominently featured in the sale of John W. Adams' collection (Bowers & Ruddy, 1982). The one 1793 chain cent certified mint-state by PCGS in the sale (Lot 2002, S-3, PCGS MS62) brought a winning bid of $220,000. The most modestly priced 1793 cent in this sale was Lot 2011 (S-11b in EAC F15) which was hammered for just $8500. The new owner of this coin can feel very good about this purchase. This sale had precious few bargains, but this coin was one. Another early surprise was Lot 2019 (a 1794, head-of-93, S-18b graded MS63 by PCGS, and CC-4) which brought an astonishing $220,000 bid!
The momentum swung into high gear during the sale of the 1794s, with bids seemingly coming from everywhere - the floor, the internet, the book, and the phones. Every lot was hotly contested. Many budgets were strained as EAC collectors contended with investors for the best pieces. One coin that I was especially fond of was Lot 2066 (the finest known Sheldon-64, in PCGS MS65). It was bid to $130,000. The single finest known 1794 cent in existence (Lot 2069, S-67, in PCGS MS67 RB) brought an amazing $425,000 winning bid. This shimmering cent traces its pedigree to the Lord St. Oswald collection.
The 11 pieces in the Husak set of 1796 Liberty Caps would be worthy of a museum. I doubt if I will ever see such a stellar group again. After the sale of the '96 Liberty Caps, the investors seemed to be satisfied, and the focus returned to the hard-core EAC collectors who are the backbone of this series. As the sale moved on to the 1796 draped bust cents, the awesome S-93 (Lot 2094, PCGS MS 65 RB, and CC-1) was bid to $140,000. I had not seen any '96 draped bust other than a S-119 (Nichols find variety) with this kind of eye appeal. Prices for the 1797 and 1798 cents were about in line with my expectations. The 1799/8 Overdate cent (Lot 2192, S-188 in EAC VF25, CC-5) went for $42,500 (less than its prior sale price in 2000). However, the next lot (Lot 2192), the famous 1799 S-189 "Abbey Cent" was bid to $140,000.
Momentum remained strong throughout the draped bust cents (1796-1807). I was a bit surprised when the 1801 S-218 cent (Lot 2221, an R5 variety with 3-errors rev.) failed to meet its reserve of $24,000. Personally, I liked this coin a lot! Another coin that really impressed me was the 1803 S-263 (Lot 2266). This coin is the finest known for the variety, although not uncirculated (EAC AU50). Apparently I was not the only lover for this cent, as it soared to $16,000 vs. "book value" of $5000. This lot illustrates how difficult it is to use "the book" to estimate the value of a really nice cent (particularly in this type of sale).
Before I close, I think I should commend Heritage for the excellent way they conducted this auction. Sam Foose (with help from Bob Korver) called the sale with great professionalism and personality. The catalogue will become a valuable Large Cent reference, and is a collectible in its own right. The venue was perfect for the auction, and all systems worked very well (almost all the time). All in all, it was a memorable night!